Max Verstappen has just been announced as the driver that will pair Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso for their 2015 campaign, a week after being signed onto their young driver programme. Its also just under a year after his racing car debut occurred in October last year, when he raced for MP Motorsport in the junior Formula Renault series. When you think about it, thats quite an amazing ascension to the pinnacle of open cockpit racing in such a short space of time. But is it too short? Is 17 too young for a driver to debut their F1 career in?
I would say yes. Having had this discussion a year ago when Sergey Sirotkin was rumoured to be joining Sauber at 18, I thought even at that age a drive in F1 was simply too early given the demeanour the sport demands from a Grand Prix driver. But the big difference between Max and Sergey is the way they are entering the sport. Rather than buying his way in through sponsors like Sirotkin, Max is instead doing it on merit.
Anyone who has watched him contest in this years Euro F3 championship will agree that he is an exceptional racing driver. He knows where to position the car to get the best possible outcome, he isn’t too forceful on his rivals when defending or attacking, and most of all he has that maturity a driver needs to display at times of disbelief.
Take last weekend for example in a Euro F3 meeting at the Nurbergring. Having won the first race on the Saturday, Max was on the front row for the second race the following day, primed to take another victory. Predictably he was leading after turn one, but he still had Blomqvist, Giovinazzi, and Ocon keeping him honest in the opening couple of laps. However once twenty laps had gone by out of the twenty five, Max’s engine packed up and he was forced to retire, parking his car just on the pit entry.
Normally when young drivers are faced with this scenario, having defended first place for more than half the race distance, they get quite animated. Kicking the car, gesticulating, showing their frustration at the team. To my surprise, Max wasn’t doing any of those antics. Instead he had the frame of mind to help the marshals push the car back into the pit lane, so they could get it out of harms way.
Whats the best way to court one of the most talented upcoming drivers of this generation? Offer him a fast track seat to F1.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull – two of Formula 1’s only race-winning teams this year – have looked that display of maturity he’s shown even before he became apart of any young driver programme, and thought “thats a good idea, we need him in one of our racecars in the future.” Of course with his age, Mercedes likely went down the traditional route of getting him into the final feeder series categories before he makes his F1 debut. Red Bull could have done that but with Mercedes’ dominance of the sport, it would have been hard for Verstappen to turn down an offer for the team likely to pick up the constructors championship this year.
So whats the best way to court one of the most talented upcoming drivers of this generation? Offer him a fast track seat to F1. He’s not going to waste time waiting in the queue when the only thing he is missing is experience in F1. It will be a daunting prospect for the young Dutchman; coming from a spec series into a highly technical sport, but he’s grown up in the Playstation generation. And with his level of maturity, I don’t think it will be too hard for him to adapt to the working environment.
Of course one mans gain is another mans pain. Jean-Eric Vergne – whom I rate highly – is now being effectively forced out of his seat at Toro Rosso, after contesting what has so far been a pretty unlucky season for the Frenchman. You could say Toro Rosso have done the admirable thing by telling him this early on, instead of “assuring him” that his seat will be with him until the end. But will he get another chance at F1 in such a packet driver market? Many very rarely do.
There is also the likes of Antonio Felix Da Costa being hard done over again, after being overlooked for Kvyat last year. Carlos Sainz Jr and Pierre Gasly in Formula Renault 3.5, as well as Alexander Sims in GP3, all being told to wait for another year in their respective series. They’re all incredible talent, but it will make them realise the type of Pihranha club they’ve entered by trying to get to F1 the fastest possible way.